Top British showjumper and UAE chef d’equipe William Funnell discusses the new-look Nations Cups series, and further border woes when transporting horses to Europe for elite sport
Winning the recent four-star home Nations Cup with the UAE squad was a great result. They’re a talented team of riders, who were capable of qualifying for the Olympics before I joined them, but they’ve been working hard since. So it was nice to have built on all our groundwork and hopefully we can continue to do so.
We had a nice mix of two young riders and two more experienced. Although the competition was nothing like going to the Olympics, there’s always a lot more pressure performing in front of your home crowd, so it was nice to see them thrive – you never know how people will cope until they’re in that situation.
The difference between my job and Di Lampard’s is that I’m responsible for putting the right riders on the right horses and I select exactly what shows they do – which is good, but also comes with a lot of responsibility!
For the new-format Olympics, you need horses that are solid and are going to finish their rounds, and we fielded three new horses bought with that in mind. Although they had excellent records, you never really know if you’ve made a match until they’re in the ring with their new riders, so from their performances, we look to have some good combinations.
Longines League of Nations
The inaugural Longines League of Nations takes place here in the UAE this weekend (8–11 February). It’s tough with the World Cups in full swing, and plenty of riders in America, to tempt them to the UAE for one show, but there are some very good teams going.
Each country is now allowed to send only four riders, rather than five, for each event in the series, so with 10 nations’ horses coming from all over the world, I’ll be surprised if the odd one doesn’t pick up a knock or scrape and some have to start with a three-man team. Although every team goes down to three riders in round two under the new format anyway, that’s a massive disadvantage. Why are we flying horses all over the world anyway, when we had such lovely shows in Hickstead and Dublin in our calendar already?
It will be interesting to see how the second round plays out. You can’t cover a bad round with all scores counting, and just one small misfortune will take you from hero to zero. Does that make it more exciting? For some people maybe.
The Olympics are fast approaching, and very few countries are spoilt for horsepower. But isn’t it exciting that John Whitaker at the age of 68 has a potential horse and is planning his next Olympics? It’s going to be interesting to follow, that’s for sure!
Later this year, not only will we have to do all the health and vet checks when transporting horses out of the country, we’re going to have to do the same on the way back as well. It already costs us nearly an extra day to get anywhere on the Continent, so with the added expense of those rules on the way back, the impact could be huge.
Hopefully that extra demand at home will be a big incentive for UK shows to up their offerings. We have good enough shows in the UK to keep producing young horses here, but the long and the short of it is that it’s far easier paperwork-wise to fly my horses out of Heathrow to Dubai than it is to get them to France and back, and that is a serious problem.
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